Vetsera, Marie (1871–1889)

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Vetsera, Marie (1871–1889)

Austrian baroness who died at Mayerling. Name variations: Marie Alexandrine; Baroness Mary Vetsera. Born on March 19, 1871, in Vienna, Austria; died on January 29, 1889, at Mayerling, near Vienna; daughter of Baron Albin Vetsera and Helene Baltazzi Vetsera ; never married; no children.

The short and tragic life of Marie Vetsera began in 1871 in Vienna. She was the eldest daughter in a prosperous Austrian family. Her mother was Helene Baltazzi Vetsera ; her father Albin Vetsera was a career diplomat in the Austro-Hungarian Empire who was made a baron in 1870. Marie spent most of her childhood traveling with her parents on the baron's assignments; she was not well educated, preferring horses and fashion to her studies. She was particularly fond of horse racing, a very popular sport in Austria at the time. It was at one race in around 1885 that the Vetseras met the future King Edward VII of England. Edward subsequently introduced them to the Austrian crown prince Rudolf (1858–1889), son of Elizabeth of Bavaria (1837–1898) and Emperor Franz Joseph. Marie's parents, eager to have their daughter marry into the high aristocracy, approved of her new circle of friends. But Marie became infatuated with the unstable prince Rudolf, who was 13 years her senior, married to Stephanie of Belgium , and suffered from very poor mental and physical health, probably due to syphilis. At age 17, Marie became one of Rudolf's numerous mistresses, visiting him frequently but covertly at the emperor's palace in Vienna. Her parents, suspecting an intimate relationship, tried unsuccessfully to prevent their meetings.

As Rudolf's mental state deteriorated, he became deeply depressed, and late in 1888, considered suicide. Marie, whose romantic nature led her to believe she truly loved the prince, agreed to die with him. Together they planned for the fatal event, which would occur at Rudolf's isolated hunting lodge of Mayerling, outside Vienna. Marie wrote her will on January 18; and on January 28 the couple drove to Mayerling. Rudolf's aides found them on January 30; Marie had been shot by Rudolf, who then shot himself. (Not surprisingly, there have been rumors that they were murdered, possibly because Rudolf sympathized with Hungarian nationalists.) The tragic and scandalous event, which the imperial

house tried desperately to conceal, shocked Austria and Europe. The crown prince was the emperor's only son; his death, and his murder of a 17-year-old baroness who was his lover, was seen as a sign of the empire's imminent moral and political collapse. The emperor refused to allow Marie Vetsera's body to be buried in Vienna, despite her family's protests. She instead was buried quietly in Heiligenkreuz, near Mayerling, while her lover received a state funeral in Vienna. The tragedy has been the subject of numerous plays, books, and films. The 1936 film classic Mayerling, based on the novel Idyl's End by Claude Anet, starred Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux . Other versions featured Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve and Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn .


Judtmann, Franz. Mayerling: The Facts Behind the Legend. Trans. by Ewald Osers. London: George G. Harrap, 1971.

Markus, Georg. Crime at Mayerling: the Life and Death of Mary Vetsera. Trans. by Carvel de Bussy. Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1995.

related media:

Mayerling (96 min. film), starring Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux, with Gabrielle Dorziat as Elizabeth of Bavaria, directed by Anatole Litvak, Concordea, 1937.

Mayerling (140 min. film), starring Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve, with Ava Gardner as Elizabeth of Bavaria, directed by Terence Young, MGM, 1968.

"Mayerling" (90-minute special for "Producer's Showcase"), starring Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, NBC, 1958.

Mayerling to Sarajevo (French film), 1940.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California